Felicity Guest is the founder of Child Maintenance Difficulties South Africa (CMDSA), and through the organisation assists primary caregivers by empowering them to know their rights regarding child maintenance laws, and when seeking financial support through the South African Maintenance Courts.
Communication is vital during crises and we are going through a crisis right now.
The impact is felt everywhere and having un-intended consequences for co-parenting and contact. In high conflict relationships communication is difficult and causes anxiety and anger, now is the time to put it aside and focus on the issues needing to be discussed.
The first and foremost concern should be the health of everybody. We have had to respond quickly and accept the many changes in the uncertain environment of Covid-19.
Many court ordered Parenting Agreements will not be adhered to as most arrangements will have changed or have to change.
Supervised visits, soft supervision with or without third parties, contact in the primary caregiver’s house or in public spaces, handing over at neutral places are all impacted by the sanctioned restrictions, these won't be the same.
This has to be accepted, as it is a legislated emergency contingency.
If contact has been suspended then an alternative must be agreed on, such as regular video calling which is perfect to still have meaningful contact and engagement.
This is not the time to blame, or bring up old stories; everybody is navigating uncharted territory with uncertainty, fear and anxiety, this includes the parents and the children.
So parents have to lead with understanding, co-operation and some maturity: this too will pass.
When dealing with a crisis it is imperative that you stay calm, stay focused and communicate clearly and unemotionally.
Conversation and contingency plans
Start the conversation now about how things will be dealt with should a parent or child suspect they might be exposed or infected with the virus.
This conversation should be of neutral tone and done in a non-aggressive manner.
Hello Mary/Bob, what a time we are living in!
I wanted to reach out and see if we could come up with a plan to get through this crisis.
What are your thoughts and suggestions about being able to have contact, what are your suggestions should Joe and Carrie not feel well, or show any of the symptoms?
What if you suddenly show any of the symptoms, and what are our contingency plans?
Let's chat and make sure we're on the same page.
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Remove fear and anxiety
Both parents have a moral obligation to approach the situation with civility and understanding towards each other’s concern for their children.
Including the other parent in the decision making removes some of the fear and anxiety.
Some parents might have to work from home or not work at all, whilst some are still working.
There are extended holiday periods and limited external contact, and provided both parents have followed all protocol are virus free and offer a safe environment, then there could be more support navigating the social distancing and shut down.
Neither is wrong or right
Being rigid about the terms of the Parenting Plan in these circumstances is not going to serve anyone and a greater level of trust is going to have to be exercised.
Parents might have different ideas on how to approach this pandemic and neither of you may be wrong or right, so it is important to remain calm, the children are experiencing their own fears and anxieties and you do not want to add to their stress and anxiety, a united front is best.
There are some situations that are going to be difficult and there might not be any contact or less contact for an extended period of time, this is going to have to be accepted until this is over.
Be prepared for change
Understand that this can all change instantly, be prepared for sudden changes, be prepared for the unexpected and remember that the child has two parents who both have fears and anxieties.
The courts are not going to hear new matters unless they are urgent and even this can change at short notice.
We can help
Share your family relationship questions and stories with us, and we will find the answers. Anonymous contributions are welcome.